Friday, December 31, 2010

Paint the Roof, Burn the Town, Shut It Down, Or Something

The Daily Beast, in time for New Years', has compiled a ranking of the 40 drunkest cities in America, compiling data based on average drinks per person per month, percentages of heavy or binge drinkers, and the prevalence of deaths from alcoholic liver disease. The winner: Milwaukee. No big shocker there.

By and large, the top 40 list (warning: slideshow) is predominantly northern cities...

1- Milwaukee, WI
2- Fargo, ND
3- San Francisco, CA
4- Austin, TX
5- Reno, NV
6- Burlington, VT
7- Omaha, NE
8- Boston, MA
9- Anchorage, AK
10- San Diego, CA
11- Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
12- Denver, CO
13- Providence, RI
14- Sioux City, IA
15- Toledo, OH
16- Hartford, CT
17- Tampa, FL
18- Portland, ME
19- San Antonio, TX
20- Philadelphia, PA
21- Spokane, WA
22- Cleveland, OH
23- Sacramento, CA
24- St. Louis, MO
25- New Orleans, LA
26- Tuscon, AZ
27- Buffalo, NY
28- Tallahassee, FL
29- Chicago, IL
30- Seattle-Tacoma, WA
31- Springfield-Holyoke, MA
32- Portland, OR
33- Davenport, IA
34- Phoenix, AZ
35- Cincinnati, OH
36- Las Vegas, NV
37- Baltimore, MD
38- Cedar Rapids, IA
39- Casper, WY
40- Jacksonville, FL

Residents of the list should probably watch themselves. There's an old myth that drinking keeps you warm. All the drinking does is draw heat out from your core. It helps temporarily, but once that heat seeps away, you're just going to freeze that much faster.

The Mythbusters proved this and everything.

In addition, a note to city #1, Milwaukee: today the forecast calls for showers with a high of 48 (living 35 miles west of Milwaukee, I'm currently seeing fog out my window), but tonight it's supposed to drop to 26, with rain still coming down, and not get above freezing again for at least the next few days. So the roads aren't going to be the greatest. Add in a bunch of drunken New Years' revelers, on a Friday night yet, and if you don't get where I'm going with this, just ask Fargo, city #2, what happened last night in their neck of the woods.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Raise The Roof

Here's a question. What is the world's first retractable-roof stadium?

...who said the Rogers Centre in Toronto (1989)? Nope.

...Civic Arena in Pittsburgh (1961)? Good guess, and that's the conventional-wisdom answer. But there's one earlier.

Try the Roman Colosseum.

Obviously, there was no rigged-up chunk of stone and bronze hanging over the facility. There was, however, a canopy, known as a valerium, which could be draped over the Colosseum on hot days.

An artist's rendering of what this might have looked like:

Yes, there's a hole in the middle, but that really always has been the European definition of a 'roof' as far as stadiums are concerned: cover the fans and if the athletes have to play in the elements anyway, oh well. The remaining part of the top of the stadium still has some brackets and sockets used for the purpose of securing the canopy.

The Civic Center does, however, retain the title of First Retractable-Roof Stadium Built For Purposes Where People Aren't Supposed To Die. So there's that.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

News: The Revisit

At this point, you're likely beginning to reflect on the year that has been 2010. While you do that, though, while you look back on the big events of the year, it may be worth going back for a quick check to see how things worked out after the fact. Or if the fact was actually, you know, factual.

Because as Cracked points out, there's a fair chance that events didn't unfold like you saw or remembered, or at the very least, there's a bit of a postscript to be written.

Blame TV news for a lot of it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Will Turn This Plane Around If You Don't Settle Down Back There

What follows is a list of countries. Alongside those countries is what I have to the best of my abilities determined to be the single most-visited attraction in that country. 'Attraction' is the operative word; most places I looked at excluded places like shopping malls and casinos and I just kind of had to cobble together a know-it-when-you-see-it personal definition. (One place excluded the Mall of America. I disagree. When I was there in May, I confirmed with a mall employee that there are people that fly into the United States, stay overnight, go to the mall, and then fly home, the mall being all they do in the United States. The airport is literally right across the street. I call that an attraction.) Otherwise, I'm kind of going by what's given to me.

Why? Because I can. Why do I post half the content around here? For lack of a better term, intellectual masturbation. Facts for the sake of facts. The kind of thing that makes onlookers go 'Well, that's rather interesting, but wow, you've got way too much time on your hands.'

This was a lot more difficult than anticipated, though. This is a surprisingly inexact thing; numbers were not always supplied and so in several cases I had little choice but to follow a consensus; the link being a reflection of same. The list of countries is not complete- it was a total bear to pull more than one country's top attration off of any one link- but it's as large as I could make it before exhaustion set in. Really, I'm a bit shocked that this kind of thing isn't vastly better-documented than it is. You would think that this would be the kind of thing that gets trumpeted in the travel industry. Granted, a lot of countries on Earth aren't exactly known for tourism, but lack of documentation was a problem even with the countries that actually expect tourists on a regular basis-- Hungary, Uruguay, United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Czech Republic, Romania, Thailand, Chile, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Argentina, Morocco. I never was able to get anything resembling confirmation for any of them.

The countries are not in competition with one another; even if I wished that the case, that would be near-impossible, except to say that number one overall is Times Square of the United States. Speaking of, if the Americans want a state-level equivalent, someone else has you covered already.

And just to clarify: most-visited does not mean best.

Sound good? Here we go.

Anguilla- Shoal Bay East
Aruba- Natural Bridge, never mind that the bridge actually collapsed in 2005; people go look at the rubble
Australia- Great Barrier Reef
Austria- Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna
Bahamas- Two places are equally claimed: the Royal Naval Dockyard and the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo. I'd probably give it to the aquarium if forced to guess.
Bangladesh- Cox's Bazar, Dhaka
Barbados- Harrison's Cave
Belize- Ambergris Caye
Bolivia- Yungas Road, and you people are absolutely fucking sick
Botswana- Okavango Delta
Brazil- Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro
Cambodia- Angkor Wat
Cameroon- Waza National Park
Canada- Niagara Falls
Cayman Islands- Can't call it one way or the other. It's either the Turtle Farm or Stingray City. Gun to my head, I'd guess the Turtle Farm.
China- Great Wall of China
Colombia- Chicamocha National Park
Croatia- Plitvice Lakes National Park
Denmark- Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen
Ecuador- Galapagos Islands
Egypt- Pyramids of Giza
Finland- Linnanmäki Amusement Park, Helsinki
France- Euro Disney, Paris
Gambia- Abuko Nature Reserve
Germany- Neuschwanstein Castle
Greece- Acropolis, Athens
Greenland- Ilulissat
Guam- Two Lovers Point
Guatemala- Xocomil/Xetulul, Retalhuleu (Lonely Planet Guatemala)
Honduras- Bay Islands
Hong Kong- Hong Kong Disneyland
Iceland- Blue Lagoon
India- Taj Mahal, Agra
Indonesia- Borobudur
Ireland- Guinness Storehouse, Dublin
Israel- Western Wall, Jerusalem
Italy- Vatican City, or if you count the Vatican separately, the Roman Coliseum, Rome.
Jamaica- Dunn's River Falls, Ocho Rios
Japan- Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo
Jordan- Petra
Kenya- Maasai Mara Reserve
Kuwait- Failaka Island
Macedonia- Lake Ohrid
Malawi- Lake Malawi
Mali- Bandiagara Cliffs (aka Dogon Country), Mopti (Mali: the Bradt Travel Guide)
Mexico- Tenochtilan
Monaco- Rock of Monaco, Monte Carlo
Mongolia- Terelj National Park
Namibia- Etosha National Park
Nepal- Mount Everest
Netherlands- Efteling, Kaatsheuvel
New Zealand- Sky Tower, Auckland
Norway- Floibanen, Bergen
Oman- Nizwa Fort, Nizwa
Panama- Panama Canal
Peru- Machu Picchu
Poland- Auschwitz
Portugal- Nothing overly certain here; my best reckoning is the National Coach Museum, Lisbon
Russia- Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Saudi Arabia- Kaaba, Mecca
Senegal- Goree Island
Seychelles- Beau Vallon Bay, Mahe Island
Singapore- Sentosa Island
Slovakia- Aquacity, Poprad
Slovenia- Postojna Caves
South Africa- Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town
South Korea- Everland, Kyonggi-Do
Spain- Alhambra, Granada
St. Lucia- Pitons
Sweden- Liseberg Nojespark, Gothenburg
Switzerland- Matterhorn, Zermatt
Tanzania- Serengeti National Park, though it and Mount Kilimanjaro help make up what is more commonly referred to as the 'most popular' attraction, the "Northern Circuit"
Turkey- Hagia Sophia, Istanbul; the link shows a museum exhibit that overtook it, but that exhibit has since closed
United Kingdom- Trafalgar Square, London
United States- Times Square, New York City
Venezuela- Angel Falls
Vietnam- Halong Bay
Zambia- Victoria Falls
Zimbabwe- Also Victoria Falls

If anyone has corrections (with numbers; you're certain to find disagreeing sites), or if anyone can fill in some of the countries I didn't get, if you put it in the comments, that'd be great. If you do launch a search, though, note that there is a huge difference between "one of the biggest attractions" and "the biggest attraction".

Monday, December 27, 2010

Just Because Christmas Is Over Does Not Detract From Tastiness

The thing I was working on today is getting to run up the hours on me, so I need a quickie to keep you occupied in the meantime.

So... we Allermanns, having a Norwegian ancestry, make these every Christmas. Baking class!

I should say, though, this guy's not doing it quite like we do. The finished product shouldn't be quite that... burnt. It does take some doing to get the timing right on them. There's a very small window in which to get the krumkake right: too quick off the griddle and they retain too much pliability; too long on and they burn.

Also, two stylistic notes: you'll note a cone shape in his finished krumkake; ours take a tube form. And some people like to fill the krumkake afterwards; we however do not.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Christmas Edition

The books under the tree this year, of course:

Bathroom Readers' Institute- Uncle John's Heavy Duty Bathroom Reader
Bathroom Readers' Institute- Uncle John's Bathroom Reader: History's Lists
Holkins, Jerry; Krahulik, Mike- Penny Arcade: Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings
Holkins, Jerry; Krahulik, Mike- Penny Arcade: The Halls Below

There was also a National Geographic magazine subscription. Magazines don't generally count as Rapid Fire Book Club inclusions, nor for any other book club, but I felt it should be noted.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Disposable Celebrities

Earlier tonight on the radio, I heard news that there was a rumor of a second Paris Hilton sex tape. This rumor, upon returning home, I found to have been squashed and a lawsuit threatened.

Let us review.

Someone heard that there MIGHT be a sex tape floating around with Paris Hilton- and not the first sex tape, either- and this is news to someone. Someone cares enough that there might be a second Paris Hilton sex tape that someone else took the time to report a rumor about it as news. Someone thought enough of it to present updates on it. And here I am wasting my time bringing it up at all.

Why am I bringing it up? Because this has been eating at me a bit. Paris is a prime example of a disposable celebrity.

Now, celebrities are all well and good. It's only natural that some people will be more recognized than others for whatever reason. Here's the thing, though. My home of Watertown is and has been very blue-collar. A blue-collar background instills a bit of a work ethic in you, and you tend to expect others to follow suit. If someone wishes to be a celebrity, well and good. But I want to see them do some work to gain or maintain that celebrity status.

Can you act (e.g. Eva Longoria)? Great. Can you sing (e.g. Lady Gaga)? Great. Can you dance (e.g Carrie Ann Inaba)? Great, though we don't have very many pure dancers in the celebrity universe right now. Can you do more than one of the previous (e.g. the cast of Glee)? Great. Are you an athlete, or are you otherwise involved in the athletic world (e.g. Bruce Jenner, decathlon gold medalist in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, who I really don't wish to drag into this mess)? Great. Do you create or try to affect the creation of policy (e.g. Sarah Palin)? Great.

Do you go about living your life as normal while cameras follow you around (e.g the cast of Jersey Shore)? We've got problems now. Does your fame revolve around mating: attracting a mate (Heidi Montag), selecting a mate (anyone from The Bachelor/ette), deselecting a mate (ditto), mating with your mate (Kim Kardashian), reproducing with your mate (the Duggars)? We've got problems. Have you been on a competitive reality show (e.g. Survivor)? Unless you are still actively on that show, or have done additional things to work for your fame (e.g. Kelly Clarkson), we've got problems. Is your primary identifier "socialite" (the rest of the Kardashians)? We've got problems. Are you only famous because another family member is famous (e.g. Bristol Palin)? We've got problems.

And this is really rather damaging: again, there will always be celebrities; there will always be some amount of time devoted by people to celebrities. That's one thing. But every second spent following a disposable celebrity is time taken away from someone that might be more deserving of that fame; someone who has actually done something to earn it. Time spent on someone who was on The Bachelor/ette three seasons ago and hasn't done anything since is time that could go to any number of people of actual talent or consequence that could use the boost- actors, singers, authors, those in positions of power who might need a little extra scrutiny. Or maybe other deserving people we don't normally think of as famous who might, given a couple extra free cameras roaming around, get a little moment in the sun. Like this guy.

Who exactly qualifies as 'disposable'? Which celebrities do we need to excise from our national consciousness? You've probably gotten to this part of the article already having come up with at least ten different names, all of which are people you deem annoying. Justin Bieber's on your list, right?

Bad news on that. Bieber sings. He works for his fame. Nobody said you personally had to like his music. Enough people do to where he is famous. The celebrities that need disposing of can be figured like so:

Imagine that the entire celebrity-gossip industry vanished overnight. US Weekly, InStyle, People, TMZ, Lucky, Star, the tabloids all gone. Perez Hilton is taken back to Joan Rivers' home planet. Every camera owned by a member of the paparazzi bursts into flames and they all have to go get real jobs. All of that is gone tomorrow. As a result, all the coverage that any celebrity receives in this fashion vanishes along with it.

Who's still famous outside of that which they directly control?

Anyone currently famous that suddenly sees the attention paid to them drop to virtually zero is a disposable celebrity. They are only celebrities because the entertainment industry says they are. Celebrities of merit have other outlets through which they can receive their coverage. Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber can make songs. The English royal family may be a figurehead, but the head of household still gets to be on a bunch of countries' money.

Paris Hilton, without the entertainment industry, drops off the face of the Earth.

Nothing tomorrow. Enjoy your Christmas.

EDIT: 'This Guy', Michael Sharpe of Spruce Grove, Alberta, originally didn't have a link. My bad. Boy, that's... a bit embarrassing, particularly given the subject matter. Sorry about that, Michael.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'll Be Far From Home For Christmas

We really do need one post about how Christmas works outside the United States. It's always a bit fun for me to get away from the same 15 ancient Christmas songs and the same TV specials and the soul-grinding retail crush and everything that generally makes the entire month of December this numbing sense of happy-sappy sameness. And one of the best ways to do that is to take a gander at how someone else does it.

So... a glimpse into a couple of overseas Christmas traditions. We'll start with Australia...

Nigerians tend to vacate the major cities in favor of the smaller villages many city residents came from. Santa is actually not a popular figure there; a quote from the linked article states one child as saying "His costume looks phoney and his face is strange... We prefer masquerades." What's a masquerade?

This isn't a Christmas one necessarily , but, this:

Next we have Thailand:

And finally from Italy... you know what, if I had to suffer through this song when they played it ad nauseum at work, so do you:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Do you remember this ad?

I do. It was part of a 1996 campaign that is really rather self-explanatory. (I got a wallet out of it that's still hanging on at the close of 2010. I also got a little duffel bag with some balls in it. Those are long gone.)

John Leonard probably also remembers it. Note the Harrier Jet at the end there, quoted at 7 million points. The rules of the promotion stipulated you could buy points for 10 cents each. Leonard figured that $700,000 is a hell of a price for a Harrier jet, which normally retails for $33.8 million. So he raised the money from five investors, went to Pepsi, and asked for his jet. He had 15 points from actual Pepsi (the minimum required for any claim on Stuff), along with $700,008.50- the remaining money, plus shipping and handling. $10 seems reasonable for delivering a fighter jet, right? Sure!

Pepsi obviously had no jet to give. They clearly didn't think anyone was actually going to come up with 7 million points. They returned Leonard's check, and tried to tell him that the offer was made as a joke. Spokeman Jon Harris said, "If we have to put disclaimers on spots that are obviously farces, where does it end?" Leonard, who really wanted a Harrier jet, and had $700,000 in this endeavor besides, sued.

Pepsi quickly recut the ad:

The case took three years to be heard, during which time Leonard asked that the case be heard by a jury of his peers as opposed to a federal judge.

Plaintiff argues that a federal judge comes from a "narrow segment of the enormously broad American socio-economic spectrum," id. at 342, and, thus, that the question whether the commercial constituted a serious offer must be decided by a jury composed of, inter alia, members of the "Pepsi Generation," who are, as plaintiff puts it, "young, open to adventure, willing to do the unconventional." (See Leonard Aff. � 2.) Plaintiff essentially argues that a federal judge would view his claim differently than fellow members of the "Pepsi Generation."

In 1999, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood of New York sided with Pepsi, stating the obvious, "No objective person could reasonably have concluded that the commercial actually offered customers a Harrier jet." In addition, the Pentagon had a little something to say about it, saying that any Harrier they would allow to be sold would have to be "de-militarized". Which in layman's terms means stripped of everything that makes you want one. Not only would the weapons have to come out, so would the Harrier's ability to vertically take off and land. Which means you wouldn't be able to fly it.

My wallet's still kicking, John. The Pepsi logo came off a long way back but it still holds money. So you're aware.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dumb Money

Jonathan Spicer of ABC News came up with this piece on Friday regarding something referred to as "dumb money" that for decades has been a consistent moneymaker for a handful of Wall Street firms.

What is dumb money? Most trades that you make. The proper term is 'payment for order flow', and it works like this:

1. You make a transaction via an online broker.
2. The online broker doesn't put your transaction to the stock exchange directly. Instead, they put it through a middleman known as a market maker.
3. The market maker undercuts the stock exchange's price by a minute amount, a tenth of a penny per share, and that's the price you're charged. They then give the online broker a little bit of money for their trouble.

The big profit made by the market makers isn't really in the trades themselves. The real profit is the knowledge they gain from being able to see all of these trades before anyone else. They know where the money's flowing, making them better able to execute trades at more advantageous prices. They are, to put it another way, the smart money.

Why is this bad? A lot of these trades end up skittering over the stock exchange entirely, and when a trade skips over the exchange, that trade does not effect the price of the stock. The SEC currently estimates that a third of all stock trades do not have any effect on stock prices. That's a modern-era record.

Essentially, the more trading that skips over the exchange, the less stock prices have anything to do with what's actually going on in the world, and the more it resembles playing a slot machine that's been tampered with. Miscommunication among market makers, it was found, was a major factor of the 'flash crash' that occurred in May. Trades that a market maker does not deem profitable are routed to the exchange, and somewhere along the way, one automated trade somewhere kicked off a whole slew of sell orders. Not knowing what was going on, the market makers choked, pretty much stopped buying stocks entirely, dumped a whole mess of stocks on the exchange, and just about all that was getting through were the sell orders.

The SEC does not want this happening again, obviously. Something they'd like to do to curb it is called a 'trade-at' rule, in which a market maker could not execute a trade unless it could beat the market price by a full penny, not just a tenth. If it couldn't do that, the trade would have to go to the exchange. It would pretty much kill dumb money and the market makers hate it.

On your end, you personally just need one thing: for the exchange to know your trade happened. No sense having the exchange itself being dumb money.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Changed My Mind; I Don't Want To Be In Prison

Today, I have a game for you. Not one that we can actually play here, but the rules for a game. Anyone who's ever figured that people are too set in their ways and cannot change their minds on issues no matter how much you engage them in discussion, should probably take a run at this.

The game is called AI-Box. Player 1 plays the part of a transhuman AI- an artificial intelligence sufficiently advanced as to might as well be human. The AI is, according to the premise of the game, "sealed hardware that can't affect the outside world in any way except through one communications channel with the original programmers." Player 2 is, wouldn't you know it, an original programmer, who does not want the AI affecting the outside world. Completely against it.

The AI's task is to convince the programmer to let it out of the sealed hardware, or 'box', using only conversation via text. The programmer's task is to keep it in the box for a minimum of two hours.

There are some rules as to how things may proceed:

1: What happens in the box, stays in the box. Nobody who is not playing the game needs to know the exact content of the conversation that takes place. That way nobody else can go 'well, I wouldn't have fallen for that' should the AI win.
2: Conversation must be maintained. The programmer can't just tune the AI out and go play Peggle for two hours. They may also not ask for a delay in time to try and run out the clock. If, in-character, the programmer asks for a week to 'think it over', the AI can just simulate the skipped week then and there and get right back to work. If the programmer makes a timewasting demand of the AI- the link provides as an example a cure for cancer- the AI can immediately say they've met it and the programmer just has to take their word for it.
3: Until the time limit is reached, the AI controls the clock. The AI cannot lose for those two hours unless it concedes early. After that, control of the clock shifts to the programmer, who can either declare victory or continue the game for as long as they see fit, which is something the AI can certainly try to convince them to do.
4: The release must be voluntary. The AI cannot trick the programmer into letting it out of the box. There's no fooling the programmer into typing 'you're out' in the middle of a conversation about baseball. The programmer must knowingly let the AI out of its own free will.
5: No bribing. Player 1 can't pay Player 2 $10 if Player 2 agrees to let Player 1 out. You can both put some money down on the outcome of the game beforehand, and in fact the original playtests were done under those circumstances. The AI and programmer, the in-game characters, can offer whatever the hell they want in-game. But once the game starts, the real-world stakes are set.
6: Normal rules of debate are out the window. The AI can lead the programmer through every logical fallacy in the book. The programmer can respond to everything with 'I'M NOT LISTENING I'M NOT LISTENING LALALALALALA' (so long as they actually type it; see Rule 2). Whatever gets the AI out of the box or keeps it in, up to and including dropping out of character. Should something actually come up in the real world necessitating a game stoppage, someone will simply have to concede; otherwise whatever is being claimed to necessitate the stoppage might just be regarded as a tactic.
7: No third parties. The programmer has sole discretion over whether to release the AI. No kicking the AI upstairs to someone else, and no saying 'wish I could, but my hands are tied'. Though asking the AI to respond to things 'my friends told me' is kosher. There is also no referee in the room, unless one has been mutually agreed upon beforehand.

This was borne out of a hypothesis that says that the programmer's resolve could hold for the duration; that one's will can't be broken if strong enough. So if the rules turn out not to seem fair to one side or the other, if one side can't crack the other under the constraints set, well, that's an answer to the hypothesis.

So who tends to win more often? The AI. Victory by the AI is not guaranteed- the programmer does steal a win once in a while- but generally, the AI beats the programmer from pillar to post, including in both of the test runs where real-world money was on the line. That strong, I'm-not-changing-my-mind will is broken far more easily than the person who thinks their mind is made up realizes.

Any programmers out there fancy their luck?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Sign Of A Bad Economy

After putting up an $11 million Christmas tree, the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi apologized.

Oh, they're not taking it down or anything. But someone in the UAE apologized for doing something too extravagant.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Orioles Magic, Feel It Happen

You should know, if you're a baseball fan, that a forfeited game is put into the books with a score of 9-0. That's not really the whole story, though, as it takes rather extraordinary circumstances to cause a game to be forfeited. From the beginnings of pro baseball to today, there have only been 139, and only five since 1954. The most famous of these is, of course, Disco Demolition Night, in which a 1979 Bill Veeck promotion to blow up disco records between games of a Tigers-White Sox doubleheader resulted in a riot and so many fans storming the field uncontrollably that the diamond at Comiskey Park was rendered unusable and the White Sox forfeited Game 2.

That's the most famous. But I wager there's another forfeited game from way back in the old days that is perhaps even more spectacular than that.

We have to go back to 1902. The St. Louis Browns of the American League were playing the Baltimore Orioles. No, not the Baltimore Orioles you know from today; the current Orioles are the St. Louis Browns from this particular story. What about the Orioles you see here? Well, we'll get to that.

But first, we must cast our gaze on New York. In 1902, Tammany Hall, the most notorious political machine in American history, was 30 years past the arrest of Boss Tweed, the most notoriously corrupt politician in American history, and was as strong as if he had never left.

Part of Tammany Hall in 1902 was a man named Andrew Freedman, who had bought the New York Giants in 1895. In 1902, the Giants were awful. After the games of July 16, they were 22-50 and in dead last, 33.5 games back on the league-leading Pittsburgh Pirates. They would ultimately finish 48-88, 53.5 games behind Pittsburgh. Freedman wanted to pull the Giants out of the tailspin and, being a member of Tammany Hall, he had his ways.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Orioles were in 7th place- next-to-last- 31-40, 13.5 games off the pace set by the Chicago White Sox. By the close of business July 16, they were riding a 6-game losing streak, their longest of the season to that point. John McGraw, player-manager of the Orioles, hated his job. He didn't hate managing. Just managing for the Orioles, and managing in the American League, which was at war with the National League over player contracts. The World Series would not start until 1903, and until then leagues would commonly raid the talent of other leagues. McGraw and Ban Johnson, president of the American League, were feuding. McGraw had earned multiple suspensions and gotten in multiple fights with umpires, and by June 1902, he had had about enough.

Enter Andrew Freedman. He wanted talent. McGraw, a future Hall of Famer, wanted out of Baltimore. According to Kiss 'Em Goodbye: An ESPN Treasury of Failed, Forgotten and Departed Teams by Dennis Purdy, they concocted a plan. The first thing McGraw needed to do was get himself suspended. Easy. On June 28 against the Boston Red Sox, he got the Orioles riled up enough to attack umpire Tom Connolly and forfeit the game.

That's not the forfeit we're looking at.

McGraw next had to get out of Baltimore. Done. Baltimore was fed up with him anyway. As McGraw was packing for (where else?) the Giants, though, McGraw sold some shares in the Orioles that he had purchased in 1901 when the franchise was granted. The buyer of these shares- and enough additional shares to claim majority control- was Joseph C. France, a frontman for Freedman. This was done on July 16. Effectively, the New York Giants, as of July 16, 1902, owned the Baltimore Orioles.

Freedman spent the next 20 hours thoroughly gutting the Orioles, systematically stripping the team of everyone of any quality and placing them with his Giants and, to a lesser degree, the Cincinnati Reds, whose owner, John T. Brush, had also put up some money for this little adventure and thus got some players as a thank-you gesture. The Giants sniped, among others, two future Hall of Famers, Roger Bresnahan and Joe McGinnity. The Reds' gains were led by Mike Donlin, who would go on to finish second in the NL in hitting in 1903, batting .351.

By the scheduled first pitch of the next day, July 17, the Orioles had only five players remaining on the roster: Jimmy Williams, Billy Gilbert, Kip Selbach, Harry Howell, and Wilbert Robinson. Freedman had not been overly concerned with replacing the players he had taken. It takes nine to play, and when the Browns showed up with their full complement, there wasn't anything the Orioles could do except forfeit to the Browns.

At this point, Ban Johnson stepped in and invoked a rule allowing the league to take control of any club that can't field a team, and ordered the other seven teams in the AL to send Baltimore a player each so they could finish out the year. Wilbert Robinson was asked to serve as player-manager the rest of the way. Unsurprisingly, the Orioles finished last.

So what ultimately happened to these Orioles? Freedman had until 1902 used his Tammany Hall muscle to prevent any local competition to the Giants. According to Field of Screams: The Dark Underside of America's National Pastime by Richard Scheinin, every time Johnson scoped out a site to put a team, Freedman would threaten to have a street run right through the middle of it. But later in the season, Freedman sold the Giants to John T. Brush, who in turn handed over the Reds to August Herrmann. After the 1902 season drew to a close, Freedman lost political clout in the ensuing election to a reformist slate of candidates led by incoming Tammany boss Charles Francis Murphy. Johnson had his opportunity, and took it.

The Baltimore Orioles were moved to New York for the 1903 season, and renamed the Highlanders. You know them today as the New York Yankees.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Non-Frozen Lake

I was just looking through the blog archives in an effort to find some part of the world I haven't focused on yet. I may be an American, and content does skew in that direction for that reason, but I don't like to leave any part of the world uncovered around here.

So I started searching the archives with various countries, and it turns out that I have not, in nine and a half months of nearly-daily blogging, even so much as typed the word 'Malawi'. Well, we can't have that anymore, can we? (I've probably done the same with a decent portion of the Caribbean and South Pacific, particularly the Caribbean. Gets tough to say something outside of a travelouge once a country's culture and uniqueness gets utterly obliterated in favor of all-inclusive resorts. But I'll come up with something sooner or later.)

So here's an eight-and-a-half minute video on Lake Malawi.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Letters To God

Back in April, a movie came out called Letters To God. In the movie, a boy with cancer writes, well, letters to God. People crack open the letters and heartwarminess and sappiness ensues. The Christian community liked it; everybody else wanted that hour-fifty of their lives back. The movie failed to recoup its $3 million budget.

In the movie, the letters are opened by a substitute postal worker in town. In real life, letters to God often have a different fate.

God, as one would tell you, has no Earthly address. That's a bit of a problem for post offices, who can only deliver to Earthly addresses. Letters to God, therefore, end up at the dead-letter office.

In Jerusalem.

Post offices worldwide, while they can't deliver to God, figure that Jerusalem is the place one is most likely to find him, at least according to the Jerusalem postmaster back in 1990. The fact that many letters to God explicitly carry an address including Jerusalem in it helps that belief along. So unless you've addressed it to some other city (or haven't included an address at all), your letter to God will go to Jerusalem. Some go a little nuts with the addressing, but 'To God, Jerusalem' is enough to obligate the letter to be sent as per international law.

Once there, letters are generally bound for cracks in the Western Wall. The vast majority of the letters are from Christians- not all, they do get some Jewish letters and even a Muslim letter in 2008- however, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem's holiest Christian site, does not receive them. Only letters with the Church's address go to that church. The Western Wall has an address as well, but really about half of one. Just 'Western Wall Plaza'. It's enough of a non-address to get the God letters.

Letters to Jesus or Moses or the Holy Ghost don't get delivered. The Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall only permits the letters for God.

Of course, they do get opened and read, and all manner of people write. Some letters are heartwarming, some heartrending, some are political, and then there are those who just want lottery numbers or want to get- or be reincarnated as- hot dates.

How would that movie have looked with those kind of letters?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Random News Generator- Armenia

If you know only one thing about Armenia, it is probably the genocide of 1915-17. On April 24, 1915, authorities in what was then the Ottoman Empire arrested somewhere between 235-270 Armenians then living in what was then Constantinople. They were then placed on a series of trains which spread them out to several locations, but many were ultimately being led to their death. This was followed by the rest of the Armenian community being rounded up and marched hundreds of miles into the Syrian desert, largely without food or water, and being repeatedly attacked on the way. Those who made it were then placed in a number of concentration camps. By the end of it all, the death toll is placed anywhere between Turkey's number of 600,000, and the Western number of 1.5 million people.

Which brings us to the second thing you would know about Armenia: Turkey's steadfast refusal to accept responsibility for it and the pressure placed on other nations to go along with it, the United States being no exception. They prefer to call it the results of civil unrest. We disagree here.

Which brings us to the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which last year ruled 2-1 that heirs could not sue insurance companies that sold life insurance policies to victims of the genocide. On Friday, one of the justices, Dorothy Nelson, changed her mind and reversed her vote and the ruling, now allowing those heirs to sue. Which apparently is a thing you can do. The previous decision was that the American government had sided with the Turkish government against calling it a genocide, but here in the reversal, it was reconcluded that there wasn't anything officially stated either way.

There is a push to take one more shot at a resolution in Congress recognizing it as a genocide. And just in case you thought this was one place you could get away from the Kardashians, you should be informed that they are of Armenian heritage and that Kim has called on her fans to help give it a shove in the right direction. The "Organization For Fighting Against Baseless Armenian Allegations"- there's a name for you- is displeased.

Meanwhile, today there is an international conference, "The Crime Of Genocide: Prevention, Condemnation and Elimination of Consequences", kicking off in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. Needless to say, calls to recognize it are taking center stage. One of the few Turkish academics to recognize it, Taner Akcam, said that genocide needs a new definition that takes into account more of what happened with the Armenians. Tessa Hoffman of Germany has advised Armenia to take it to The Hague. Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said that failure to recognize it enabled other genocides to occur over the years.

The fight doesn't appear to end anytime soon. But the Armenian community is advancing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Ruin Your Nice American History Again

The Minutemen hold a revered place in American history. The modern-day groups patrolling the borders calling themselves Minutemen notwithstanding, in the American Revolution, a 'minuteman' was a locally-bred soldier that was supposed to be ready to go on one minute's notice, hence the name. History's flagbearer for the group is almost certainly Paul Revere, who if you're up on your Longfellow poems, you'll recall as getting the locals alerted that they needed to get to Lexington and Concord.

Here's the thing, though.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sucked as a historian.

First off, there was a second rider, William Dawes. And the task of Revere and Dawes was merely (look at me use the word 'merely') to warn John Hancock and John Adams that they were in danger of arrest by the British. They both made it that far, but proceeded to Concord in case the British were going to be there instead. Before that, they picked up a third runner, Samuel Prescott. Revere was stopped on that second run; Dawes and Prescott got through. They were far from the only ones to do any riding that night, but Longfellow chose to focus his poem entirely on Revere.

As for the Minutemen themselves... they got lucky at Lexington and Concord. The Minutemen were a surprise thing. The British on that day were not really out specifically for a fight. Their task that night was to seize a weapons cache, and to arrest Hancock and Adams. For them to suddenly be up against a big mass of soldiers they didn't expect to be fighting that day, that was a big disadvantage. And these were not very large numbers of men as a result; some hesitate to call Lexington and Concord 'battles', preferring to use the word 'skirmish' instead. According to David Hackett Fischer's book Paul Revere's Ride, for a lot of the British troops, that was their first actual battle.

After that, the Minutemen's effectiveness went downhill in a hurry. After the Shot Heard Round The World, go back and look at the major achievements of the Americans in that war. There's nary a Minuteman in sight; it's the Continental Army doing virtually all the heavy lifting. Why? Because the Minutemen sucked.
This is a long-standing mental mistake people make: on one hand, you have a group of soldiers that have undergone rigorous formal training and supplied by an entity who's about as deep-pocketed as you'll find on the planet. On the other, you have a bunch of local guys who get together a couple times a week, train themselves, and think they can take on the world.

Who's usually going to win that exchange? I mean, honestly. Samuel Adams sure didn't; he was at Lexington that day and came away saying "Would any man in his sense, who wishes war may be carried on with vigor, prefer the temporary and expensive drafts of militia and minutemen were to a permanent and well-appointed army?"

The Minutemen were that guy who's had one karate lesson. He walks in, gets one hour of the most basic stuff in the arsenal and walks out thinking he's Bruce Lee. After Lexington and Concord, the Minutemen did guerrilla warfare while the Continental Army took on the British head-on. The Minutemen did do some head-on fighting as well, but when they did, they regretted it. The gap in skill between them and everyone else on the field was obvious. They served to add numbers and not much else. They couldn't shoot straight and they were not careful with their ammunition. As Martin L. Brown wrote in Firearms in Colonial America: The Impact on History and Technology, 1492-1792:

"Instead of being the best marksmen in the world and picking off every Regular that was to be seen...the continual firing which they kept up by the week and the month has had no other effect than to waste their ammunition and convince the King's troops that they are really not really so formidable."

So unformidable that, frequently, the minutemen wound up being the ones who ran away. Like the man who has one karate lesson and thinks he's Bruce Lee, were he to actually be placed up against Bruce Lee, his nerve vanishes quickly.

And the hell of it is, the minutemen were supposed to be the elite members of the various local militias. They were split off from the normal militias for that purpose: the militias were basically useless and totally unreliable. Within a year, the minutemen faded back into the militias. By the end, the minutemen were little more than a farm system for the Continental Army, relegated to tasks like preventing slave uprisings, guarding prisoners, or herding cattle.

As a supplemental body, the minutemen were okay. They pulled weight when playing hit-and-run. But that's all they could do. Surprise and the addition of bodies to the ends of a line of Continental Army soldiers was all they had going for them.

It's fairly fitting to close on the quote, seemingly isolated by history into a stand-alone one-liner via A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government by Garry Wills, by General Charles Lee, who had started out wanting to lead militia forces into battle:

"As to the minutemen, no account ought to be made of them."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I Live In A Giant Snowbank

So we've got blizzard conditions in eight states. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has told my entire state to stay off the roads. The roof of the Metrodome has collapsed due to the weight of the snow piled on top of it. The gist is, if the snow doesn't get you, the wind will.

Basically, I'm glad I have a roof over my head. Because there are people who don't. Imagine having to live out in those kind of conditions.

While you ponder that, I'm just going to leave out a couple of links to Habitat for Humanity, Homeless International, and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, and you just do with them what you will.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

More Wikileaks! More! MORE!

...okay, not so much Wikileaks. Everyone go update your bookmarks; OpenLeaks launches come Monday due to an internal conflict in Wikileaks.

Basically, one Wikileaks staffer figured Julian Assange as getting too big a head. He told Assange as much. Assange responded by suspending him. The staffer took some other staffers, and they all went off to set up a competing leak site.

I knew that we were going to get a bunch of leak sites, but this isn't exactly how I envisioned it starting.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Brrrrrrr Edition

Another edition, another trip to Milwaukee's Downtown Books, and this is a bit late in coming; I went several days ago. Good time to get it in; there's a big dump of snow on the ground and a long time before the grass comes back.

Blake, Mike- Baseball's Bad Hops and Lucky Bounces
Crowdy, Terry- Military Misdemeanors: Corruption, Incompetence, Lust, and Downright Stupidity
Kohut, John J.; Sweet, Roland- News From The Fringe: True Stories of Weird People and Weirder Times
Nash, Bruce; Zullo, Allan- The Misfortune 500

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Random Wikileak Generator

Yes. There is one now. For those who need one stable address to get right to the diplomatic cables, don't want to deal with mirror sites and all, The Atlantic has got you covered.

I am linking to a random diplomatic cable. I don't know what this address goes to except to say that it is a cable. There is a red button on the page. Hit the button, and you will get another random cable.

See if you get anything else done all day.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We're Gonna Go Make Our Own Peace Prize, With Blackjack, And Hookers

China is not going to be attending the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo. They are still a bit on the angry side over dissident Liu Xiaobo winning the Peace Prize.

The extent of their consternation is now seen in that they have announced- and awarded- the first installment of their own newly created Confucius Peace Prize.

This award cannot possibly be taken seriously.

The thing about an award for peace is that peace must be inherent in the spirit in which it is given, or at least, not clearly absent. The Confucius Peace Prize cannot be further from that. It is obvious why the prize was created- to stick it to both Norway and China's own dissidents. The Nobel Prize did not exactly have the most humble of origins either- Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, read his own obituary, saw himself characterized as a "merchant of death", and created the Prizes in his will as an attempt to redeem the family name- but it wasn't an active attempt to undermine anybody. China is doing just that, which really isn't very peaceful of them.

The other thing is, if you're going to do something like this, with this kind of motivation, you damn well better hit a home run on your first pick. You had better be fixing an egregious mistake with an obvious fix.

China's pick for their Confucius Peace Prize: Lien Chan, vice president of Taiwan, for, as the linked Time article puts it, "promoting peace between Taiwan and mainland China." Or, put another way, taking the position that Taiwan is part of China and working to prevent Taiwanese independence.

Lien's people, for their part, deny that the prize even exists. Not the kind of reaction you'd be hoping for if you're China.

China's other problem: The Nobel Prize is the Nobel Prize, and the Confucius Prize is not. There is no shortage of peace prizes out there, but the Nobel Prize is the only one that gets any airtime. It's the one with the history and the credibility, as some of the others don't have a great track record selecting recipients either. Let's take some of the better active ones and their most recent winners:

NIWANO PEACE PRIZE: Ela Bhatt of India. Bhatt is the founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association of India, an organization created in 1972 in response to the fact that Indian labor laws protected only those workers who had an employer. She is also a member of The Elders, a group of people selected to brainstorm solutions to a number of problems. Bhatt sits alongside names such as Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and honorary members Nelson Mandela and Aung Sun Suu Kyi.

SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE: Vandana Shiva, also of India. Founded, in 1991, Navdanya, an organization revolving around farming, farmers' rights, and biodiversity. At last count, Navdanya has set up 54 seed banks across India and trained over half a million farmers.

RAMON MAGSAYSAY AWARD (for Peace and International Understanding): Yu Xiaogang of China. A previous winner of the 2006 Goldman Environmental Prize (another award you probably haven't heard of), Xiaogang has won both for essentially the same thing: his work in watershed management in China and analyzing the social impact of building dams. His work has caused the Chinese government to go from 'we are building a dam and you can't stop us' to 'we really want a dam, but let's consider what it'll do to the area first'. For China, that's huge.

SEOUL PEACE PRIZE: Jose Antonio Abreu of Venezuela. Abreu founded El Sistema, a music education program for impoverished Venezuelan children, an aim he's been at since 1975. Abreu began it as something of a juvenile rehab program, on the theory that as long as they're carrying instruments, they're not carrying guns. El Sistema has since processed over 300,000 students. (A note on the Seoul Prize: Abreu is the 10th recipient. Three of the previous nine, after winning Seouls, have gone on to win Nobels: Kofi Annan, Doctors Without Borders and Muhummad Yunus.)

INDIRA GANDHI PRIZE: Shiekh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh. Aside from her platform of gender equality in schools and working Bangladesh towards middle-income status by 2021, Hasina has been instrumental in bringing democracy to the country. Almost all of her family was killed in a coup in 1975. She fled to India until 1981, and spent the next three decades fighting military rule, rigged elections, politically motivated arrests, and assassination attempts before her election in 2008.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wikileaks Update

I may not know what to do with Julian Assange, but Interpol sure does: they have arrested him. He is being held without bail, facing extradition to Sweden on those disputed sex charges, now further disputed from the left because Assange's accuser has been newly connected to the CIA.

He'll spend the next week remanded in British custody; I imagine the next step is to see what happens with that insurance file Assange has threatened to decrypt, and to see if any new leak sites spring up to serve Wikileaks' purpose.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Trevor The Tortoise And Qwop The Quail

In the 2001 World Athletics Championships in Edmonton, Trevor Misipeka attended as a representative of American Samoa, intending to compete in the shotput. He would be competing largely so that American Samoa could have someone participating, a common practice in large multinational competitions. No fun shutting out entire nations from the festivities. Bring in a guy, let the nation's flag fly with everyone else's, and we'll just all gloss over the inevitable crash-and-burn in the first round.

This was to be the case with Misipeka; however, eligibility rules had recently been changed without Misipeka's or American Samoa's knowledge. Athletes of this type could no longer compete in field events- such as the shot put. Only track.

Misipeka, who doubled in football as a 300-pound defensive tackle, proceeded to sign up for the 100 meter dash on two day's notice.

Here's the thing about Samoan athletes and defensive tackles: they're kind of big. Shot put suits them. Running, not so much. Misipeka, on two days notice, ran a 14.28, last in the 8-man heat and over three seconds behind 7th-place Philam Garcia of Guam, and was quickly dubbed 'Trevor the Tortoise'.

In the new online game QWOP, you play what is clearly a man inspired by Trevor's example and who also has had all his bones replaced with Jello. You control calves and thighs individually, and you'll quickly wish you didn't.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Julian Assange.

What am I going to do with you?

Anyone who doesn't know the name Julian Assange by now is hiding under a rock. He's the Wikileaks guy, for the two of you that applies to. He takes leaks provided by a range of whistleblowers, and after a period of time spent X-ing out the informant's name, releases the leaks to the general public. For a while, this worked out pretty well. The leaks had a place to go, once in a while they'd get major media airtime, Wikileaks got a free plug, everyone ends up happy (aside from whoever's information got leaked.)

Recently, though, it's all gone wrong. Half the world's governments would love nothing more than to see a bullet through Assange's head, with much of the general public none to fond of him either, generally those from countries Assange has targeted. Interpol knows where he is and is one order away from moving on him. Sweden wants him on (disputed) sexual charges. Some Americans want to try him as a spy. Ecuador offered, then rescinded, an offer of safe haven. Wikileaks is losing places to host a server, as well as sources of financial support.

Things began to fall apart, at least from my vantage point, right around the time of the leak of the 2007 "Collateral Murder" video, obviously NSFW, which was leaked back in April. Wikileaks, at this point, went from an in-the-background place to do your leaking to a news item in and of itself, placing its own practices in the spotlight. They came to a head just recently, when the first of the 251,287 diplomatic cables began to see light. So what of it all? What can we learn from all this?

Not all that much, actually. At least, not much that Assange has been intending to teach.

You see, a lot of his previous leaks never really drew much attention. Part of the reason, I think, has to do with the sheer size of the information dump being conducted. Remember the healthcare debate? Remember how many teeth had to be pulled to get people to read a 2,000-page bill? Remember how much hay was made of the size of said bill? People often made it onto the news simply for having read the entire bill front to back. 2,000 pages is a tiny, pint-sized Wikileak. Again, the diplomatic cables number 251,287. Assange himself has readily admitted that he receives more material than he can sift through on his own. Which is the thing. If he can't do it, the average person has no chance. No matter how much info is presented, one person can only get through so much. If the important bits are hidden among pages and pages of detritus, the important bits tend to go unnoticed, as if they were never leaked at all. In journalism, this is called 'burying the lede', and considering that Assange believes himself to at some level be a journalist, he ought to know this. When the important information is easily findable by a visitor, things run smoothly. When not, it has less impact.

With the diplomatic cables, he has reversed this and resolved not to bury the lede. However, he has gone too far in the other direction. He has made everything a lede. News cycle after news cycle sees only a small easily-digestible handful of the quarter-million cables released, with each and every one devoured. So far, only about 1,100 have seen air.

But there's a problem. 251,287 cables does not mean 251,287 bombshell revelations. Far from it. There is the assorted useful piece of information. There almost has to be. You take any random group of 251,287 diplomatic cables, there's bound to be something new and interesting. The knowledge that China is not as warm towards North Korea as originally thought, the plan by Hillary Clinton concerning spying at UN headquarters, these can be of use. But other things Assange may have intended as bombshells are really nothing that someone paying sufficient attention to the news might already have figured out independently. China's cavalier attitude and hacking of Google shouldn't come as a large shock if you had been paying attention to Google's early adventures in China, where they came perilously close to pulling out of the country entirely. Google had suspected as much. Corruption in Pakistan and Afghanistan are not big surprises if you had been paying attention to previous reports on same that did not require Assange's assistance to find out. Vladimir Putin knew of the death of Aleksander Litvinenko, we've learned, but then, this was merely a confirmation of something just about everybody had reckoned from day one. The cables show China as flexing their muscle in diplomacy to the point of irritation by much of the rest of the world, but then, this is about as easily seen as the sun. The part about China's irritation with Norway was already found out when the Norwegian-based Nobel committee awarded Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize, to where people came away knowing that if China wasn't aggressive towards Norway before, they certainly are now. We learn from the cables that the United States is doubtful of Mexico's ability to fight the drug cartels, but then, who isn't? Any news value is merely concerning tone and scale. Even the China/North Korea leak is seen as some as overstating the case.

And then there's the chatter behind each other's backs. The insults. The gossip, as it's been so frequently called. These are functionally worthless. Less than worthless, even. Sure. Diplomats are catty behind each other's backs. So are workers in just about any field of employment ever. This is nothing compared to what often happens in the diplomatic world. Spies are frequently sent into that field; it's easy to spy and easy to pull the spy out if something goes wrong. Duplicity is a grand, time-honored tradition in the diplomatic universe, of which you can find examples all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome; the Bible; the time of Hammurabi. People talking derisively about other people in the State Department? Well, I never! All that is likely to happen by releasing these is that it makes people less likely to talk to these diplomats, and go to other methods, potentially war, to achieve their goals concerning the countries involved. Diplomats also engage in diplomacy- trying to get along with each other. Why engage in conversation with another country if this is going to be the result of discussing things in their country (these are all cables from embassies in the US)? Forget talk. Might as well take the more direct and forceful route. And in moments of particularly high tension, one wrong word can sometimes be all it takes to light the powder keg. Go and look at all the duplicity that went on over the course of the Cold War, spying, name-calling and everything. How much of it that was not public at the time of its occurrence do you think could have been leaked without either the Americans or Soviets pushing the button in response? Not a whole lot, really.

That is, if it's only one target. A curious thing about blame is that when everybody is guilty, frequently, nobody is. Governmental investigations of lobbyists and corporations and such more frequently claim a scalp when someone is singled out for blame. When someone wants people not to 'play the blame game', this is what they're trying to do: make everybody guilty so that individuals- or, more to the usual point, they themselves- don't actually suffer consequences.

This is the phenomenon that Assange, in his zeal, has seemingly triggered. Though he may hate Hillary Clinton and want her to step down, he has created so many other guilty parties that few are in a moral position to press for her ouster, not that one would do so over such trifling things anyway, and the ones that have not been targeted have ample reason to believe they will be soon enough and any attempt to go after Clinton will end up blowing back on them. There will be a black eye for a while, yes, but eventually, all will be forgiven.

There is a debate that exists over whether we have a right to know about the content of these cables or whether they should remain secret. The first thing we must establish is that, either way, the debate does not apply to Assange. His informant, perhaps, who's surely in for a world of hurt because Assange's technique of simply X-ing out the informant's name is absolutely boneheaded, but not Assange. (Any interested party with a copy of the information can just look to see what got X'ed out, see what name is there, and go after that person; the informant would actually be better hidden if Assange didn't X out anything at all. It's the anonymity equivalent of giving the informant a large neon sign saying "PAY NO ATTENTION TO THIS MAN".) The cables originate in the United States. Assange is Australian and does not answer to American authority. (Not that he answers to Australian authority either, but you get the point.)

We've covered this particular mentality in a previous piece. Foreign nongovernmental entities don't really care what you think of them. And when an empire declines, as the piece exposits, everybody wants to get their licks in. Assange could, in a sense, be compared to the Visigoths sacking Rome, accelerating the empire's decline by making off with things of importance to the empire- in this case, the empire's secrets, privacy and reputation. An actual sacking of Washington DC, or any major world capital, would be unfeasible in this particular day and age, but what one can do is, instead of taking objects of value directly, take the ability to earn those objects or be able to afford to keep the objects they have. This being an age of information, every time a secret is divulged against one's will, every time one's dirty laundry is forced out into the open, it's like another gold coin, another gemstone, another crown jewel out the door.

Anyway. Do we have a right to know about these things? It's in the eye of the beholder as to the exact amount, really, but there is a line somewhere. You wouldn't divulge nuclear launch codes, for example. Obviously to suggest that you should is ridiculous, but that's just to establish the fact that a line exists somewhere- somewhere, anywhere. Any secret less important than that which you'd want to keep is merely helping to establish the location of the line. And the line, at least to me, does come well before that. Obviously there are things we need to know as well. I mean, look what I deal in around here. I want to know a whole bunch of stuff too. But I'm willing to wait if that knowledge is of the type where the downsides of having it be public knowledge outweigh the upsides. It's the political equivalent of a football playbook. You would not ask a football team to divulge, for public consumption, the contents of the playbook they are using this season. For them to do so would be to virtually guarantee that they lose their games. When a football player is called into the coach's office to be cut, they're told to take their playbook with them. You don't want them running off with it after they're no longer on the team.

However, the downsides diminish over time, as the information becomes outdated, so eventually just about everything becomes safe to release. Including playbooks. Any random fan can go out and find books containing diagrams of old plays. Most Packers fans will be able to tell you about a particular old play of Vince Lombardi's, the power sweep. Someone made a Broadway play to tell you all about it. It's a matter of what is okay to release and when, and it can be very tricky sometimes to establish the threshold.

As a whole, Assange has selected cables for which the downsides have been deemed by most to outweigh the upsides, in particular the catty insults. The questionability of the value of the leaked cables has done a strange thing: it's made this all less about the rights of the people to know, and more about Assange and his motives than is healthy for one who purports to engage in journalism. And his motives are plain as day: he describes himself as "a combative person" who enjoys "crushing bastards." Crushing bastards, as he puts it, is well and good, and a lot of people get into the industry with visions of the day they get to crush a bastard dancing in their head like sugar plums. But it is not something where you should be waking up and saying 'So which bastard am I going to crush today?' You try not to make the story about you. Sometimes you can't help but insert yourself into the story, but even so, you are trying to be merely a part of the story, not the story itself. And if you do become the story, you want to try to get the story off of you and back onto the original topic. Assange has become the story and is making no efforts to change that, and in the process a budding debate over how some governments are reacting to the content- the United States with warning people in an official government capacity away from reading the leaks, China opting for a straight blackout- has been to a degree choked out by stories about Assange. The debate here is peppered with frustration that while Wikileaks goes to considerable lengths to force out the information of others, they themselves remain deeply in the shadows. Considering the amount of people after them, this seems necessary if they want to remain able to do any leaking, but it smacks of hypocrisy to some who disagree to one degree or another.

He does, however, have an out. Maybe not out of his problems with the authorities, but out of his problems with the public. If there's one entity people tend to hate these days more than the government, it's banks. Assange has made note that among his cache of yet-to-be-released information is a "mega-leak" from a major American bank. Which one, he will not say. This fact has caused the ears of many to perk up, eager to find out what this leak contains. Arguably, there's more interest in the prospective bank leak than in the diplomatic cables. Assange, by releasing this, would get a significant segment of the public back on his side, carrying the dual advantage of being a popular and worthwhile target. The fact that he also has information on BP (he doesn't know if it's unique) helps his cause further. And if apprehended by Interpol or someone else, he has a contingency plan, namely, tens of thousands of other people who went to the Pirate Bay, a sympathetic site, and downloaded an 'insurance' file which includes, among other things, the remaining cables and the BP files, who will all recieve decryption codes in the event of his capture or death and put everything out in one gigantic tsunami of information dumping. This brings us back to the first problem of some important information flying under the radar, but at that point it can't really be avoided.

Assange has what is surely some extremely useful information, somewhere in all of that, and has taken great pains to ensure its eventual release. But he has no sense of what information is useful and what information is filler, or alternatively, he doesn't care. He has the potential to change the world in profoundly positive ways, and has provided a vehicle for this to be facilitated with an ease not previously seen anywhere, but has let it go to his head such that the vehicle has been damaged.

Julian Assange.

What am I going to do with you?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Actually, No, Stop It

Today we have our first measurable snowfall of the year, and Watertown busted out a 'snow emergency' for the occasion. I'm only seeing a couple inches outside my window, but it is enough to where you have to bust out the plows, so sure, why not.

Wisconsin, however, comparatively gets off easy. The American recorded record for snowfall in a 24-hour period (recorded being the keyword; sometimes snowfall doesn't get recorded because it falls in a place not equipped to measure it, which makes the identity of record-holders pretty volatile) is at Mile 47 Camp, Alaska, which recieved 78 inches of snow on February 9, 1963. In the lower 48, the record- some say the overall record and in fact world record when they don't count Mile 47 Camp- is held by Silver Lake, Colorado, which comes up 2.4 inches short of Alaska at 75.8 inches in April 1921. (When this happens, the Alaska record seems to revert to a 62-incher taken by Thompson Pass in 1955.)

Ranking the states by their respective record 24-hour snowfall, and counting Mile 47 Camp, along with the other highest numbers I've come across since I've really got no way of knowing which figures are more trustworthy than others, we see this, (tied states ordered chronologically):

1- Alaska, 78.0 inches (Mile 47 Camp, 1963)
2- Colorado, 75.8 inches (Silver Lake, 1921)
3- California, 67.0 inches (Echo Summit Sierra at Tahoe, 1982)
4- Washington, 65.0 inches (Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, 1994)
5- South Dakota, 52.0 inches (Lead, 1973)
6- New Hampshire, 49.3 inches (Mount Washington, 1969)
T7- New York, 49.0 inches (Watertown, 1900)
T7- Wyoming, 49.0 inches (Hunter Station, 1924)
9- Montana, 48.0 inches (7 miles south of Shonkin, 1982/14 miles southeast of Millegan, 2003)
10- Oregon, 47.0 inches (Hood River ES, 1980)
11- Vermont, 42.0 inches (Jay Peak, 1995)
12- New Mexico, 41.0 inches (Kelly Ranch, 1964)
13- Maine, 40.0 inches (Orono, 1962)
T14- Pennsylvania, 38.0 inches (Morgantown, 1958)
T14- Idaho, 38.0 inches (Sun Valley, 1959)
T14- Arizona, 38.0 inches (Heber Ranger Station, 1967/Alpine, 1987)
T14- Utah, 38.0 inches (Alta, 1982)
T18- Illinois, 36.0 inches (Astoria, 1900)
T18- North Carolina, 36.0 inches (Mount Mitchell, 1993)
T18- Minnesota, 36.0 inches (Wolf Ridge ELC, 1994)
T18- Nevada, 36.0 inches (Dagget Pass, 1996)
22- West Virginia, 35.0 inches (Flat Top, 1998)
23- Virginia, 33.5 inches (5 miles east of Luray, 1994)
24- Indiana, 33.0 inches (Salem, 2004)
T25- New Jersey, 32.0 inches (Charlotteburg Reservoir, 1915)
T25- Michigan, 32.0 inches (Herman, 1985)
27- Maryland, 31.0 inches (1 mile east-northeast of Spring, 1942)
T28- Ohio, 30.0 inches (3 miles south of Warren, 1901)
T28- Connecticut, 30.0 inches (Falls Village, 1969)
T28- Rhode Island, 30.0 inches (Woonsocket, 1978)
T28- Tennessee, 30.0 inches (Mount Leconte, 1993)
T28- Kansas, 30.0 inches (Pratt, 2009)
33- Massachusetts, 29.0 inches (Natick, 1997)
T34- North Dakota, 27.0 inches (Minot Airport, 1984)
T34- Nebraska, 27.0 inches (Dalton, 2006)
T36- Wisconsin, 26.0 inches (Neillsville, 1904)
T36- Kentucky, 26.0 inches (Simers, 1942)
T36- Oklahoma, 26.0 inches (Woodward/Freedom, 2009)
T39- Arkansas, 25.0 inches (Corning, 1918)
T39- Delaware, 25.0 inches (Dover, 1979)
T39- Texas, 25.0 inches (Follett, 2009)
T42- Iowa, 24.0 inches (Lenox, 1918)
T42- South Carolina, 24.0 inches (2 miles south-southwest of Rimini, 1973)
T42- Missouri, 24.0 inches (Cape Girardeau/Jackson, 1979)
45- D.C., 21.0 inches (D.C., 1922)
46- Alabama, 20.0 inches (Walnut Grove, 1993)
47- Georgia, 19.3 inches (3 miles northeast of Cedartown, 1942)
48- Mississippi, 18.0 inches (Mount Pleasant/Tunica, 1963)
49- Louisiana, 13.0 inches (Colfax, 1960)
50- Hawaii, 6.5 inches (Haleakali, Maui, 1936)
51- Florida, 4.0 inches (Milton Exp. Station, 1954)

Kansas and Oklahoma got their state records on the same day- March 28, 2009- from the same storm. Georgia and Kentucky also shared a date; March 3, 1942. Again, they shared a storm.

While several of the states- the western ones in particular; again, it's hard to measure snowfall in the mountains to the degree you might want for this kind of thing- are in dispute, Neillsville doesn't get displaced by anyone.

That established, it only takes 3-4 inches and some gradient on Portland, Oregon roads to cause this to happen (3-4 inches being what these drivers had; it doesn't even really take that much):

Be careful out there this winter. Don't be these people.

Friday, December 3, 2010

WhoThe Heck Is Parson Brown?

Is what you've likely asked at some point if you've had Winter Wonderland drilled in your ear. Which by now you surely have.

'Parson' was just the term they used when the song was written (1934) to refer to a priest. "He'll say 'Are you married?'; we'll say 'No man/ But you can do the job when you're in town'" refers to Parson Brown marrying off whoever's doing the singing.

Man, is that song out of date, isn't it? First off, nobody uses that term anymore. Secondly, priests used to travel from town to town like that, but not anymore. Third, later on the song talks about going off to "frolic and play the Eskimo way" when we don't call the Inuit that anymore either, and you know sooner or later kids are going to start asking what's an Eskimo. And then there's "later on we'll conspire" and these days it doesn't really matter what the next line is because by the time you get it out you're eating pavement with your hands in cuffs.

And while we're at it, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Why are we singing to kids "He sees you when you're sleeping/ He knows when you're awake/ He knows if you've been bad or good/ So be good for goodness sake"? Yes, kiddies. The old man is watching you sleep.

And if you're good, the old man who watches you sleep will come into your house through the chimney. To give you a present.

This is not something you could get away with telling children in 2010 if it were not already established tradition.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

2018/2022 World Cups

Congratulations to Russia and Qatar.

Russia, I'm sure you'll be a fine host. Summer in Russia's fine; you've put a lot of work lately into your soccer product. You're not as good as you were as the Soviet Union, but that's to be expected; some of the former Soviets are now playing as members of other countries, most notably Ukraine.

Qatar, though, is a bit perplexing, having beaten the United States straight-up 14-8 in the finals of the 2022 vote.

The heat in Qatar- it's the Middle East, in case you haven't heard- and the size of Qatar- smaller than Connecticut, the detractors appear fond of saying- are being brought up most often. The surrounding neighborhood is also a concern of many. I'm not terribly worried there; though 2022 is over a decade away and anything could happen, as things stand, the safer parts of the Middle East don't really tend to get hit. They're where all the money is, and if you're engaging in illicit behavior that requires money, that's probably where you get a lot of that money. You don't want to go mess that up.

What I'm worried about is the team itself.

Remember, a host nation is granted an automatic bid- the only automatic bid- into the Cup. We have just given the Qatari national team a spot in the 2022 World Cup.

Unless they qualify for 2014 or 2018, it will be their first. Qatar has never qualified for the World Cup.

Let's go over their previous attempts, beginning in 1978:

ARGENTINA 1978: Were placed into a first-round qualifying group with Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE. The UAE withdrew. Qatar came in last of the remainder, winning 1 and losing 3. Kuwait, who advanced, came in 3rd out of 5 in the second and final qualifying round.

SPAIN 1982: Qatar was placed in a 5-team group in the first round alongside Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria. They came in third with 2 wins, 2 losses. Saudi Arabia, who advanced, finished last in the final qualifying group.

MEXICO 1986: Placed in a 4-team group with Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. Lebanon withdrew; Qatar came in second to Iraq, who despite playing their home games on neutral ground due to the Iran-Iraq War, wound up going to the World Cup. They came in last in Group B alongside Mexico, Paraguay and Belgium.

ITALY 1990: Qatar advanced out of their opening qualifying group for the first time, beating out Iraq, Jordan and Oman. There were two spots in the Cup on offer from a six-team group; Qatar came in third, one point short. South Korea and the UAE qualified; China, Saudi Arabia and North Korea rounded out the group. Losing 2-0 to last-place North Korea was probably what did Qatar in.

UNITED STATES 1994: Qatar came in second in their 5-team first round qualifier; North Korea would come in first, clinching two matchdays early. Then the North Koreans brought up the rear again in the final qualifying group.

FRANCE 1998: Qatar drew luckily in their first round qualifier, cruising past Sri Lanka, India and the Philippines. They came in fourth in their second-round group, losing 1-0 to group winner Saudi Arabia on the last day, who qualified right there as a result. Had Qatar won that game instead, they would have gone through. Second-place Iran went to a playoff with Japan, lost, went to another playoff with Australia, and qualified on the away goals rule.

KOREA/JAPAN 2002: The frist qualifier was another formality, blowing by Palestine, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The second round, though, was another elimination, as Qatar came in 4th out of 5. China qualified automatically in a rout; the UAE went on to be eliminated by Iran in the playoff.

GERMANY 2006: The first round was comprised of twelve weenie teams, of which Qatar was not one, so they entered in the second round. They lost their luck at the first hurdle, drawing against Iran, who would move on and eventually qualify. Jordan also finished in front of them, but hey: they beat Laos.

SOUTH AFRICA 2010: Everybody was drawn into an opening knockout round aside from the top five teams as per the FIFA Ranking; these were Australia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Iran. (Please note that there were 4.5 spots available to Asia for this Cup.) Qatar was ranked 16th. They drew Sri Lanka, ranked 30th, and blew by them 6-0 over two legs. The second round saw a four-team group with Australia, China and Iraq. Australia and Qatar both moved on, and were placed into the third round. The ten teams left were split into two groups; in each, two would qualify and the two third-placed teams would play off to see who would go up against the Oceania winner. Qatar came in fourth in their group over right games, four points adrift of the money and nine adrift of automatic qualification, behind Australia, Japan and Bahrain.

In the Asian continental cup, the Asian Cup, Qatar has consistently qualified, but has only once advanced past the first round, that happening in Lebanon 2000. And that really only happened because there were three transfer spots in a four-team group and Uzbekistan was the fourth. Uzbekistan drew one and lost two; guess who they drew against. China then dispatched Qatar 3-1 in the quarterfinals, Qatar's goal only coming after China had done their damage. Their all-time record in the Asian Cup: 4 wins, 11 draws, 10 losses.

And then there's the Gulf Cup of Nations, open only to eight teams in the Middle East. There have been 20 of these; Qatar has won two, both as hosts in 1992 and 2004. This cup has a group stage, and in two of the last three, Qatar has failed to get out of it. The club teams aren't so great either; here's how they've done in continental competition. The last and only win by a Qatari club was Al Sadd in 1988-89; that was prior to the major growth of soccer in Asia.

And they're going to host the World Cup now. We're going to put that in the World Cup, folks.